Cuthbert vs. Molly Brant

We're back! The Saintly Sixteen continues with a 7th century monk, bishop, and hermit vs. an 18th century Native American, consensus builder, and British loyalist. The round of Quirks and Quotes continues with Cuthbert vs. Molly Brant.

In Friday's Lent Madness action, Kamehameha of Hawaii defeated David Oakerhater 61% to 39% to advance to the Elate Eight.

And, finally, some of you may have heard about this other bracket-style tournament that takes place this time of year. We have done a saintly analysis of March Madness to assist you in your water cooler conversations.


Perhaps the most beautiful thing that is said of Saint Cuthbert is, “Cuthbert sought to follow Christ.” In this he is like many of the saints but his pattern of life was uniquely Christ-like in ways that shine forth through the centuries. No fewer than 22 lives of Cuthbert were written in the Middle Ages and his Christ-focused living is an example to all Christians.

In a Kingdom awash in both great violence and wealth, Cuthbert’s counter-cultural simplicity and kindness were a source of powerful spiritual inspiration. Stories were long told of the miracles of his life but also of enduring import were stories of his very human kindness. Upon his death, his legend grew and a significant cult emerged around his memory and relics.

There are a number of legends about the incorruptibility of Cuthbert’s mortal remains that signified his saintliness. Even in the throes of the zeal of the Reformation his body was found to be relatively undecayed and rather than being subjected to ransacking as so many other saints were, his pectoral cross, portable Altar, stole, and the precious fabrics in which his body was wrapped were not hauled off to the pawn shop by Henry VIII’s commissars but were reburied in what remained of his original coffin.

Bishops of the time were renowned for displays of wealth. They levied taxes on villages they had never visited nor even heard of, wielded immense power, and took hearty part in the struggles for it. Cuthbert was once given a gift of silk which he declined to wear when he was vigorous and only asked for it to be brought to him to wear on his deathbed when he wanted to be dressed to receive his Lord.

This may seem a small detail – yet Cuthbert’s dignity and generosity shielded his mortal remains when little else sufficed to protect other holy sites and remains.

The Kingdom of Northumbria, a center for trade and travel, was an immensely wealthy one and there are many stories of churches, courts, and kings bedecked in jewels and arrayed in magnificence. Cuthbert tried to be both in the world and made substantial contributions to the temporal kingdom – but he was far more concerned with being a good citizen of the Kingdom he feared was threatened by ostentation.

Cuthbert’s dilemma was not between the power and wealth of the world or the simplicity of the monastery. Cuthbert’s deep personal struggle was between being a pastor and being a hermit. He desperately wanted to love and serve those who struggled daily but he feared becoming an unwholesome example by falling prey to vanity. His long pursuit was to unite his episcopal and monastic call with integrity. He said, “Even if I could hide myself in a tiny dwelling on a rock, even then I should fear lest the love of wealth should tempt me.”

Bede’s energy, in writing about Cuthbert, was for telling the miraculous stories of Cuthbert. Yet it is his simplicity of life and centered virtue that perhaps are most powerfully resonant today.

Robert Hendrickson

8fdb5086-619a-4ea0-b146-995510eff36cMolly Brant

Even as a young child, Molly Brant exhibited a gift for leadership. In 1754, at the age of 18, Molly traveled with her stepfather and other Mohawk leaders to Philadelphia to contest the fraudulent sale of Native territory. It was there, historians believe, that Molly got her first taste in the art of negotiation and compromise.

Molly continued to put these skills to use when she became a wife, mother (to 8 children!), and tribal leader. She frequently led the Bureau of Indian Affairs on behalf of her common-law husband Sir William Johnson when he was away. Although Molly received an education from Christian missionaries and was a devout Anglican, she retained a respectful devotion to many Mohawk customs, which allowed her to serve as a consensus-builder between two nations. During the Revolutionary War, she also commanded soldiers and organized relief efforts. As one British military official wrote: “One word from her goes further with them [our soldiers] than a thousand words from any white man without exception.” Even after the defeat of the British in the Revolutionary War, Molly continued to serve as an advocate for the Iroquois nation as new boundary lines were drawn between Canada and the newly formed United States of America.

Not only was Molly Brant skilled in negotiations and peacemaking, she was a skillful trader and herbalist who often used the herbs in her garden for medicinal purposes, further ensuring her strong ties to her Mohawk community. She continued this practice upon settling in southern Ontario where, in 1791, she financed the building of the first Protestant church in Kingston.

For many years, American historians ignored Molly Brant’s place in history because of her Loyalist leanings. Yet, such an omission fails to account for her remarkable gifts and achievements in the face of massive cultural, social, and economic transformations As one biographer has noted, "Posterity has done scant justice to this remarkable woman. In her lifetime she commanded respect from Indian and white alike. Soldiers, statesmen, governors, and generals wrote her praise. Her life from the Ohio and Mohawk Valleys to Kingston was not easy…She survived this turmoil with dignity, honour, and distinction as a mother and a leader.”

In an attempt to bring attention to Molly Brant’s contributions, composer Augusta Ceccconi-Bates created an opera in honor of Molly in 2003. Two years later, the non-profit Molly Brant Foundation was chartered to provide support for research related to the lives of native people in southern Ontario.

Molly Brant never wavered in her faithfulness to prayer, the study of Scripture, and the transmission of the Christian faith to her eight children. Whether one counts her a Loyalist or a Patriot, Molly’s tenacity, generosity, and cooperative spirit are a legacy to us all.

Maria Kane


At 7:20 p.m. today, we blocked three internet addresses due to excessive voting. So a few folks in St. Paul, MN; New Castle, PA; and Saudia Arabia (go figure) are not going to have access to Lent Madness. Please vote once only! If you are a school or some other institution which will be registering lots of votes, let us know ahead of time. Again: one vote, one person. If you want your saint to win, get more people to vote!


[poll id="127"]


* indicates required

Recent Posts



172 comments on “Cuthbert vs. Molly Brant”

  1. Good grief, another tough one. I will have to mull over my choice. I love humble Cuthbert; Molly was an herbalist, so it follows that she was a healer. Hmmmm.

    1. Molly was a slave owner who never freed her slaves. That should be taken into consideration.
      Go, Cuthbert!

  2. My sister is married to a Cuthbertson. He is much like his namesake--a man of integrity. He has recently been through much upheaval, including the loss of one of his sisters; and although I admire Molly Brant, I voted for family today.

  3. Oh man, it sounds like both saints were highly respected but really: simplicity and humility vs. leadership and greater understanding? I lean toward the woman who shares my name, however, I would have enjoyed a few more quirks (this is the time to share those legends after all) or quotes, even second-hand ones (I haven't read Bede, so that would have been interesting).

  4. Molly was a good citizen and leader for her people, but I felt like I was reading a biography of a historical figure, not a saintly one. Therefore, my vote goes to Cuthbert.

    1. Interesting that you contrast "historical" and "saintly." In the first round of Lent Madness, I found myself favoring saints of more recent days whose actual contributions are well-documented as opposed to those of the distant past whose stories include many legendary elements. Today, I'm torn between Cuthbert's simplicity of life (even with some embellishments) and the clearer record of Molly Brant's accomplishments.

      1. I too found it tough to make a call today but went with Molly when I sa the Canadian stamp. My mom was Canadian, and I lov Canada!

  5. Let's start with the beautiful icon of Cuthbert holding an eider duck, awesome! Too it seems as if his struggles with simplicity vs. wealth are even more essential today than in his own time, and he loved wilderness and all the creatures in the choir, again a good model for us 'moderns.' Yet.... Molly rocks! Bridge builder, healer, wise woman, leader in tough times. I think how the day goes, and which model seems more immediately compelling at the end of the day will determine this one for me. Good people to reflect on.

  6. The agony of making a choice in this round is more intense. I was initially swayed to support Cuthbert, but on reflection and inner feelings, I cast for Molly; she struck a cord that during the time that she did her deeds, it was very difficult for native peoples. Not to say the Cuthbert is unworthy, just another difficult bracket.

  7. Molly had my vote but it was a very difficult choice. She was a consensus builder, mother of 8, and an herbalist. She was able to live in both her Native and English worlds. She was a very wise woman who served in her time and spread the Word of God to both.

  8. I still really like Molly Brant, but she appears to have lost a child between the first and second rounds; what happened to that 9th child? While she is a very worthy person, Cuthbert struck home with me more today, with his recognition of the need to take care of his people despite his acknowledgement of the temptation of wealth and power and the desire to flee that. Besides, as a birder how can I not go with a saint depicted holding a common eider?

    1. Good eyes! You're correct. Molly gave birth to nine children; one died in infancy. I should have made that clearer.

  9. This is the worst match-up ever. As a native of the Mohawk Valley, my regard for Molly is deep and wide, but I love me some Cuthbert. Beautiful writing today, CBs, or as we say in my adopted state of Maine, 'some good.'

  10. I don't understand why folks keep voting for a slave owner-Molly Brant! Do you know she is known for being Pro-British at the expense of the Iroquois, her own people?! Look her up , don't take my word for it. It's all there, she was no friend to the Iroquois!

    1. I agree with you, Emily. Why didn't the blogger include the very significant bit about her being a slave owner? This was a case of picking out the nice bits and NOT revealing the truth.
      Cuthbert should win this one hands down, however there is no predicting what people will do when they don't know the full truth about the people.

    2. Emily, Thanks for that information. I was already wondering about that before I read your comments. I had gone back and re-read both Cuthbert's and Molly's bios from the first round and just couldn't figure out how Molly was deemed a saint rather than just an influential historical figure.

    3. I'm under no illusions about the slave ownership - and I expressed my disappointment at learning about that in the first round - but the history doesn't bear out her being "pro-British at the expense of the Iroquois." The Iroquois had their own reasons for choosing to ally with the British over the Americans who would soon turn on them with such brutal atrocities. Just as I don't wish to diminish her agency by making apologies for slavery, I don't want to do so by reducing her complex motivations to a matter of simply being an unwitting British pawn. It's patronizing and oversimplifying. Molly Brant's legacy among the Six Nations is contested, so it isn't a matter of just "looking it up."

    4. Most of the founders and early white settlers in the New World owned slaves. Not an excuse. Just a fact. Ugly as it is, our nation became wealthy on the backs of slaves. The legacy of slavery is shameful, something our national conscience must own. Still, if you are going to reject Molly on that particular point, then Washington, Jefferson, all those men who were New World landed gentry, aren't worthy to note their contributions either. Can't cut slack for the males then hold a woman to another standard, I think.

      1. Right. And you know, if Washington or Jefferson were in this Saintly smack-down? They wouldn't get my vote. So being male OR female isn't an excuse! I do not think anyone is saying Molly isn't worthy of national, patriotic respect. Just that, as far a being in this competition at this second tier in the event, slave ownership might very well be seen as a not-too-desirable trait.

  11. It's tough--I agree! But here's some Lent Madness reasoning: Just started watching "Vikings" on the History Channel last night, and the monks at Lindisfarne, led by Cuthbert (a Cuthbert, yes, but THE Cuthbert?) were attacked by those nasty Vikings. So I'm voting for Cuthbert. I'm a sucker for English church history! Even on television!

  12. This was a tough choice today, but the next round should be harder, I guess. Molly got my vote today, though I truly admire Cuthbert.

  13. Molly Brant all the way. I spent many summers in the Brant Valley in SW Ont. I have made pilgramage to her homestead by canoe. She is a leader that the people need now! May she inspire all in her ways of reconcilliation. This one deserves a Golden Halo!

  14. The story of Cuthbert is much grander than Mr. Hendrickson's posting, which is long on commentary and short on details. He is revered in England to this day because of his role in the religious history of Northumbria.

  15. Cuthbert for sure. A man of great sanctity, humility, aware of his own temptations, who fought them and won. Venerated and loved during his life and after his death. Respected by even the horrid henchmen of Henry VIII. An easy choice for me today.

  16. Why I'd Cuthbert holding the duck? Love it but, want to know why. Voted for Molly, hard choice.

  17. Cuthbert's struggles with materialism and his kindness are admirable. However, Molly has more going for her. I visited Sir William Johnson's residence as a kid. He was the English governor of the colony and Molly Brandt's common law husband. Molly and her eight kids lived in one small room- now that's true austerity! Living in a cave alone would be a piece of cake compared to that. She must have had the patience of a saint. Her Anglican faith was important to her, and probably influenced her to be a peacemaker. She set an example of loving kindness and respect for all, which is why she was so respected. She achieved peace and relative justice for her people in an era of ruthless colonialism. I vote for her for saint, and wish I could vote for her for president.

  18. I do wish Molly Brant hadn't owned slaves. That muddies things for me significantly. In the end, I went with Cuthbert.

  19. A tough one today (Again...). Admire Molly very much, but in the end swayed by the duck and happy memories of visiting the Farne Islands.

  20. I voted for Cuthbert. I keep thinking about the otters drying his feet after he spent time standing in the sea and praying.

  21. The miraculous return of river otters to our streams is witness to Cuthbert. Go otters! Vote for the saint who called me to Eco- ministry. Go otters! Go living waters!